18 July 2017
While Southeast Asian nations take comfort from the Trump administration’s stated interest in the region, a Singapore-based international security expert said they still remain wary of the president turning their territorial disputes with China as a bargaining chip to pressure Beijing to rein in North Korea.
Joseph Liow, dean of comparative and international politics at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said even though Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in their visits to the region have tried to allay fears these nations see “a lack of clarity” in what the administration intends to do.
The question they raise, he said, is who is in charge of making the evolving strategy: the national security team or the president’s inner circle when it comes to Southeast Asia and overall policy in the Asia-Pacific.
Speaking Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he pointed to “less interaction” between officials below the ministerial level across the region with the United States and warned, “the devil is in the details” in hammering out solutions to problems.
While “Southeast Asia does not have a unified position” on how to approach China, Liow told the audience at the Washington, D.C., think tank many nations there regard “the frequency of FON ops [freedom of navigation operations] as a litmus test” of American commitment but see the administration’s use of them as sporadic.
He added they as a group and especially their leading business figures “are adverse to sending any kind of signal that China might consider provocative” because of the close economic ties these nations have with Beijing. They also point to the Trump administration’s walking away from pursuing the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement as another reason to keep Beijing always in mind in their foreign relations.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 19/07/2017